Endgame Premises Archives: 16: The material world is primary

The material world is primary. This does not mean that the
spirit does not exist, nor that the material world is all there is. It means that
spirit mixes with flesh. It means also that real world actions have real world
consequences. It means we cannot rely on Jesus, Santa Claus, the Great Mother,
or even the Easter Bunny to get us out of this mess. It means this mess really is
a mess, and not just the movement of God’s eyebrows. It means we have to face
this mess ourselves. It means that for the time we are here on Earth—whether
or not we end up somewhere else after we die, and whether we are condemned or privileged to live here—the Earth is the point. It is primary. It is our home. It
is everything. It is silly to think or act or be as though this world is not real and primary. It is silly and pathetic to not live our lives as though our lives are real.

Visit the global 16: The material world is primary archives for posts from all DGR sites.

DIY Resistance: Find Rock Bottom

Hot-Sun-300x200

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

The August San Diego sun was hot. I spread a white blanket on the white concrete floor of a patio behind another mental health hospital, opened the book I asked my mother to bring me – Derrick Jensen’s Dreams, and tried to make myself as comfortable as possible.

The sun beat down and the sweat pooled on my palms. I closed the book not wanting my sweat to blur Jensen’s exploration of the role of the supernatural in resisting this culture of death. I couldn’t focus anyway. I couldn’t forget why I was there.

It was my second suicide attempt in four months.

The worst thing about being an in-patient at a mental health hospital is the way patients are always watched, evaluated, monitored. Patients must sleep with their doors open so an orderly can shine a light on them every half hour to make sure they’re still alive. Patients are required to present their food tray to the nurse after each meal while she takes notes on the leftovers.

I used to wonder what my unfinished beets meant about suicidal ideations or what the fact that I used butter on my roll the night before while eating my roll plain the next night indicated to hospital staff about my mood. Couple this with the fact that many patients are under court orders to comply with their doctors’ directions and the fishbowl effect is intensified.

Setting the book aside, I looked around the hospital patio. I was the only one outside. Visitation was still hours away and the heat discouraged my fellow patients from venturing out-of-doors. A few plastic tables were set up with umbrellas, but I was not interested in finding shade. The sun, at least, is honest in his watchfulness and he had a specific role to play. He was going to sweat some answers out of me – answers I was incapable of finding on my own.

After a few hours, thoroughly drenched in sweat and finally smelling like a human again, I followed the shadows forming in the afternoon sunlight. They led me to piles of stones in a rock garden. And that’s when I realized what these suicide attempts were really all about. Rocks. Rock bottom.

Through my two suicide attempts, I had finally succeeded in scraping my life clean of the death that was drowning me. Lounging in my new concrete couch next to those harsh, but beautifully real stones in the rock garden, I sensed the strength of my position. I was broke. I had no job. I was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. I was in a strange city thousands of miles from my closest friends and hundreds of miles from family. I needed the permission of my doctors to be released from the hospital. In short, I had nothing. Nothing, except for the most important possession of all – nothing to lose.

I am not sure if it was the medication, my own dehydration, or that fucking flashlight sweeping across my face every half hour that contributed to the vividness of my dreams that night, but I am sure I thoroughly confused my doctors because they increased the dosage of my anti-depressant to levels that made my spine tighten and my ears ring. And, just for good measure, when the nurse came with my pills that night she checked under my tongue to make sure I swallowed them.

***
rock bottom pathIt’s been 13 months since the sun and stones helped me make sense of my two suicide attempts. I have not tried to kill myself since. This is not to say that I’m completely recovered. I still think about suicide. Suicide is a smooth-voiced monster lurking just below the surface of still, warm waters.

I’ve made rock bottom my home.

I am still broke. Right now, I have nine voicemails on my phone from debt collectors seeking their student loan interest and money for the ambulance rides I never consented to (could not consent to) after my suicide attempts. I do not know where I am going to sleep from week to week. I am in a strange country now, thousands of miles from friends and family.

Sometimes, just before bed, when I grow weary of the day, the old whispers start up again. “Wouldn’t it be nice not to wake up to all the anxiety tomorrow?” “Aren’t you so arrogant, Will, thinking you make any difference in this world?” “The guilt could just fade away with a few small actions…”

The sun and stones continue to help me, though. So much of the therapeutic process for the mentally ill involves learning to accept emotions, learning to sit with disquiet. In the mornings after particularly bad nights, I find a rock under the sun. They remind me that part of existing at rock bottom requires some vulnerability to the darknesses that make me who I am. They remind me of the strength that has been required to reject a life of material comfort for a life of resistance. They remind me that with this strength I can laugh at the seductions of suicide. Laughing at suicide removes the poison, and I can accept my suicidal thoughts as a guide like the reassuring feeling of rock walls within a wanderer’s reach in the pitch black of a cave.

I’ve made rock bottom my home. I like it here. From rock bottom, I thank my suicidal thoughts for what they’ve taught me. Everything is better than suicide. Living with the anxiety that can accompany activism is better than suicide. Having uncomfortable conversations with family about personal finances is better than suicide. Losing romantic partners over your choice for activism is better than suicide. Going to jail for defending the land is better than suicide.

It was suicide that taught me how to confront death. I survived. Twice. In surviving, I learned the power that exists in a life in full, mature contemplation of death. I have chosen death twice. It was not hard. I am not afraid of death by another’s hand after facing death at my own. I will die, but not yet. There’s too much to do.

I thank the sun and the stones for being my companions through the darkness.

***

Acclaimed poet Ken Saro-Wiwa

As a member of the most privileged class in the world – white, heterosexual male – I cannot speak for the experiences of the oppressed. I do, however, think that many of the world’s most successful resistance movements were spawned from the hardest of rock bottoms.

One of my favorite examples of resistance is currently embodied in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

MEND has successfully cut Nigeria’s oil production by 30% through direct attacks on oil infrastructure and oil workers. While so many of us in the environmental movement are fighting rear-guard battles that resemble armies in full-fledged retreat with our limited actions protecting this or that piece of land or trying to defend against one destructive project leaving dozens of others to ravage our communities, we look more often than not like fleeing soldiers simply trying to grab as many supplies as possible in our arms to make it just a few more days. MEND, on the other hand, has taken the offensive and struck critical blows to the fossil fuel industry.

The history of resistance in the Niger Delta shows how terrible things got before people took up arms against corporations and government. With their backs against the wall in the realest sense, MEND has shown the world that a few dedicated resisters with very few resources can bring the world’s most powerful corporations to the bargaining table.

An estimated 1.5 millions tons of oil has spilled in the Niger Delta over the last fifty years. This is equivalent to close to one “Exxon-Valdez” spill in the Niger River every single year.

Meanwhile, there are 27 million people living in the Niger Delta with close to 75% of those people relying on fishing and subsistence farming to feed themselves. Beginning in 1990, Nigerian soldiers backed by financing from Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) and supported by Shell’s own paramilitary forces have conducted massive, deadly raids on oil resisters amongst the Ogoni people.

Perhaps the most well known atrocity at the hands of the Nigerian government and Shell, was the 1995 hangings of nine non-violent Ogoni leaders including the internationally acclaimed poet Ken Saro-Wiwa by a specially created military tribunal.

Viewed in this light, MEND’s resistance was predicated on survival – rock bottom, indeed.

***
stonesSo far, my writing in this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series has focused on the emotional and spiritual conditions that I believe would-be resisters must find as they begin their path to saving the world.

I urge you to fall in love with life, to recover your empathy, to understand that the struggle involves profound, but conquerable grief, and then to embrace the urgency that accompanies opening your heart to love, empathy, and grief. The first few essays merely point out the first steps I see on the path towards a life devoted to serious resistance.

Emotions and spirituality are, of course, important but they will not stop the dominant culture from murdering what’s left of the world. Our prayers will not stop Monsanto. Really, really stirring emotional accounts of suicidal experiences will not affect the material conditions producing widespread depression in this culture. This late in the game, our only salvation will come through real, tangible action in the real, tangible world.

I once sardonically directed readers to boil their debit cards and to try to eat them to demonstrate the unreality of bank accounts. The same holds true for emotions. You will die of thirst very quickly if you drink only love and empathy.

In the upcoming installments of the series I will begin to focus on practicalities through the lens of my personal experiences. There are lifestyle steps that I think help to free people to take direct action in the struggle to save life on the planet. I hesitate to prescribe specifics, but I think there are some general choices resisters can make to free their money, time, and energy for tangible action. In the weeks to come, I will explore topics such as family life, financial considerations for activists with a special emphasis on student loans, and even the possibilities of romance in a life devoted to resistance (resistance is sexy!).

Underneath my suggestions is the rock bottom. Live there. Get comfortable sleeping with stones.

The truest existential freedom exists when they can take nothing else from you. When you personally have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain.

And, the truth is, as members of natural communities we are losing our ability to feed ourselves, we are losing access to drinkable water, we are losing clean air to breathe, we are losing our human and non-human friends at staggering rates. We are losing everything and, if we delay any longer, there will be nothing to gain.

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

Deep Green Resistance – Liberal vs Radical Part 3 of 3

Don’t miss Liberal vs Radical part one and part two.

(Video captions available in English, Russian, Portuguese.  Contact us if you would like to translate this or other Deep Green Resistance videos to another language.)

Video Transcript:

Once people realize that bad things are happening most of us are called to action. I would say these are the four main categories of response.

Response Categories

The take home point here, if you remember nothing else from this, is that all four of these categories can be either liberal or radical.

None of them are inherently liberal or radical. It depends how we use them. They all have strategic strengths, they all have strategic failings. So it depends what we want to do with them.

This is the realization to which radicalism brings you. My two favorite people again.

Liberal vs Radical quotes

Social change requires force. Why? Because it’s not a mistake out of which the powerful can be educated. Don’t misunderstand me that when I say “force”, that does not have to equal violence. Whether or not to wage your struggle using violence or nonviolence is a decision that comes way later, way down the pike.

Nonviolence is a very elegant political technique if it is understood and used properly. I don’t think that it is being used properly on the left right now but this is not a division between violence and nonviolence. It is only to recognize that power is not a mistake, I mean, not unless you’re a liberal.

Again, if you want to be a liberal, great, if that’s the framework that works for you, it’s your decision. I mean really, some of my best friends, right?

[Lierre Keith and audience laugh]

Back to our categories.

The first one is legal, for obvious reasons. A lot of activist groups really focus on making legal changes to the social power. And, to quote Catharine MacKinnon, “Law organizes power”, so it makes sense that a lot of us will sort of gravitate to that. The trick is we got to do that as radicals and not as liberals.

Basic question: Does this initiative, whatever it is, does it redefine power? Not just who’s at the top of the pyramid, but does it actually redefine power? Does it take power away from the powerful and redistribute it such that we all have some control over the material conditions? That would make it a radical action. But a lot of people, they give up on the legal stuff, or it doesn’t appeal for whatever reason.

Direct action, also tried and true. You can totally bypass the legislative arena and get a lot done. Usually that’s some kind of civil disobedience. It can be letter writing, petitioning, some kind of pressure but it really kicks into gear when you hit them economically.

Great example is the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was not a legal campaign, it was “we’re going to hit them economically”, and they did. They brought the bus company to their knees and made them stop segregating the buses. So it can be very effective.

Your basic insurrection would be another good example of direct action. That covers a lot of ground from very liberal things to very successful movements on up to really profound change.

Number three is withdrawal. Now this is a tricky one. The main difference between withdrawal as a successful strategy and withdrawal as a failed strategy is whether that withdrawal is seen as adequate in itself or whether it’s seen as necessary, connected to a larger political struggle. And that distinction hinges exactly on the difference between liberal and radical. Because issues of identification and loyalty are crucial to resistance movements but they’re not enough because your emotional state is not actually what’s going to create political change.

The withdrawal has to go beyond the intellectual, beyond the emotional, beyond the psychological. It’s got to include a goal, actually winning justice by withdrawing.

Withdrawal may give solace but ultimately it will change nothing. Living in a rarefied bubble-world of the already converted is a very poor substitute for freedom and it will not save our planet.

This is Gene Sharp, who I think is marvelous, and you should go to the library, get every book he’s ever written, keep you busy for a year. He makes a very similar point. The people who he calls “utopians” I would call “withdrawalists”.

Utopians Gene Sharp

They’re often especially sensitive to the evils of the world, they crave certainty and purity, they reject the evil as firmly as possible, they don’t want to have any compromise, and they await this new world, which will come into being by either an act of God, a change in human spirit, autonomous changes in conditions, some kind of spontaneous upheaval… but all of these are beyond deliberate human control.

The most serious weakness of this response to the problem of this world is not the broad vision or the commitment of the people who believe in it. The weakness is that these believers have no effective way to reach the society of their dreams. That about sums up my youth.

[L.K. and audience laugh]

I’ve heard the phrase “secular millennialism” and that’s exactly what he’s getting at.

So the left has these vague notions that our actions will inspire others, that even more vaguely these will accumulate into some kind of meaningful social change, or kick off a spontaneous insurrection.

There’s a nonviolent version which is usually lifestyle stuff like diet. There’s the more militant actions like the Weather Underground. Those are the two poles of secular millenialism. Change will happen because it MUST or because the Great Turning narrative says it will, or because the fires of our righteous rage will make it be so.

Given that revolution is not actually inevitable, I think we would be wise to understand the basic principle of resistance. “Dislodging injustice requires”, in the words of Andrea Dworkin, “organized political resistance”.

This brings us to the next category which is spirituality.

Withdrawalists’ stance is usually based on despair but it’s an answer that relies on faith, not on strategy. Which is to say, it’s an emotional response, an emotional solution, and it’s not a material solution. This merges right into Millenarianism.

Millenarianism is any religious movement that predicts the collapse of the world order as we know it, to be replaced by this wonderful time of justice and whatnot. There are lots of examples across history of desperate people taking this up. I highly recommend reading up on this.

Much of the left has been infected by this kind of thinking. We’re going to meditate to stop global warming, we’re going to orgasm our way to peace…

If all else fails, which it will, December 2012 is coming up, right? How many of these have we lived through? I’m 46, I think I’ve lived through 4? Every 10 years there’s another one, right? It’s not going to happen.

The worst examples in history that we know of: the Xhosa Cattle Killing Cult. The Xhosa are cattle-herding people in eastern South Africa. In the 1700s there’s various colonial invasions, displacement, genocide, war, all these horrors. By 1854 there’s this terrible lung disease and a whole bunch of the cattle die so the people are just incredibly vulnerable at this point, and somebody has a vision.

A teenage girl has a vision, and the vision is, if we kill all the cattle, destroy all our food stocks, even our cooking pots, everything, then this great thing will happen. The dead are going to return, the food supplies will just spring up overnight, there’s going to be gigantic cattle that you’ve never even seen before, they’re so big, and the spirit warriors will drive the British out and we will have our land again.

This vision starts to spread, everybody starts having visions, it’s just like this mass visioning is happening everywhere.

People believe it, more people believe it, they start killing the cattle. At some point so many cattle are killed that the carrion birds can’t even keep up with it. There’s so many corpses rotting in the sun. 400,000 beasts are slaughtered by the end of this.

The first deadline comes, does anything happen? One guess… no.

And of course the unbelievers are blamed. This is always where it ends with this kind of millenialism. It’s YOUR fault ’cause you didn’t believe it. So the very last cattle have to be killed.

A few people are hanging on, “nah, I’m just going to keep this one cow for some milk”. You can’t do it. So every last cattle has to be killed.

So, what happens? Mass starvation ensues. All its attendant atrocities and horrors, people ate corpses, people ate grass, people ate their children. I mean it’s just absolute hell. The population at one point was 105,000 and it collapses to 26,000 people, a lot whom had to escape into cities ’cause they were just starving in the countryside.

150 years of imperialism could not defeat the Xhosa but 2 years of millennial fever almost did.

So, bad example.

The Boxer Rebellion is another one, just as horrible. They called themselves the Righteous Harmony Society. This was a religious society in northern China that was absolutely a response to the Opium Wars and British Imperialism. You get why people are desperate.

They did martial arts, diet and prayer and they believed they’d be given the power to fly if they did this. And absolutely, they had special garments, protection against bullets and swords. You find that theme a lot. You’re going to wear this special garment and they won’t be able to kill you.

There was going to be an army of spirit soldiers that was going to arrive to save the day and drive out the British. They never appeared. The entire thing ends in complete disaster for China. Very evil stuff. How the British responded was just appalling.

Anyway, two examples and it is really worth, I think, knowing more about this because I just see these tendencies all the time and it’s not going to end well for us either.

Divine intervention has never yet stopped a system of unjust power across the entire sweep of human history. As a political strategy it is a complete failure and we really need to get over this one.

This is not in any way to dismiss the role of spirituality in a resistance movement. Spirituality is so often the core of any culture, and it is often the cradle of the resistance movement.

A lot of people talk about the black churches as the beginning of the Civil Right Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement also, the churches play this huge role. All across the world you can find how the Tibetans and the Buddhism, how this all comes together. It gives people incredible dignity and strength, you can get yourself respect through your spiritual practice. It absolutely helps communities stay together under really brutal conditions, helps set community norms.

All that is incredibly important. My point, really, is that faith is not a political strategy.

The only miracle we’re going to get is us.

Don’t miss Liberal vs Radical part two.

Watch more DGR videos:  http://youtube.com/user/DeepGreenResistance.